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Window Or Aisle?

An uncomfortable seat on an airplane can really make or break your flight. Most frequent flyers have a horror story (or 10) to tell about a miserable experience.

Instead of shrugging your shoulders and chalking it up to bad luck, you can do something about it when you're booking your vacation this summer.

The July issue of Consumer Reports offers a look at the best and worst places to sit on an airplane.

Consumer Reports managing editor, Kim Kleman says there are really three standard measures to assess comfort:

Seat pitch: Pitch is a term for seat-to-seat spacing from one row to the next. Generally, it's 31 to 32 inches, which isn't a lot. Airlines that are somewhat roomier are:
American: 33 inches minimum
Midwest: 33- to 34-inch pitch
U.S. Airways A330-300 aircraft: 33 to 34 inches in economy
Delta 767 fleet: Varies from 30 inches to a more generous 33 inches.

Seat width, which is the distance between two armrests. Kleman says most airline seats are 17 inches wide. To offer some perspective, the cushion width on Amtrak's long-distance trains is 23 inches with a pitch of around 51 inches.

Carriers that offer more width are Midwest and JetBlue, but it depends on the kind of plane, Kleman says. Midwest's MD-80s are 21 inches wide, and seats on the new 717s are 20.5 inches wide. Low-fare carrier JetBlue has 18.5-inch-wide seats on all its Airbus 320s.

But other factors can affect comfort: the location of the seat in the airplane and your sense of spaciousness or crowdedness.

Location: Kleman says if you want comfort, it is best to avoid the middle seat, or seats around the lavatory or around the galleys, some of which don't recline fully, which is a problem if the guy in front of you is leaning back.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Ask for a seat that reclines. Seats around exit rows sometimes don't fully recline
  • Ask for a front seat. Most airlines book a plane from the back up and lavatories are generally in the back.
  • Ask for a window seat. If you are traveling with someone else, you should know that airlines generally book middle seats last, so your companion should get an aisle. Hopefully, the middle seat will be empty.

If you, by chance, get a middle seat at the back of the plane, Kleman says though there are no guarantees, there is a chance you are going to get what you want if you just ask.

Finally, Kleman advises finding out what the flight's on-time record is. She notes if you have to sit in an uncomfortable seat for a longer period of time, you are not going to be happy.